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How to Make Cookies

Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies
Everything you need to know about making the perfect cookie + the best sugar cookie recipe you’ll ever try!

Introduction

Cookies have been around for years—hundreds and hundreds of years, even. Historians can trace the earliest cookie-like sweets all the way back to seventh century Persia AD. Cakes were commonplace at this time, and bakers would often use a small amount of batter to test oven temperature, thus inventing little cakes—a name the Dutch would later coin as koekje, literally translating to “little cakes.”

The idea of little cakes spread from Persia to the Mediterranean and then later to Europe. By the fourteenth century, wafers were being sold on the streets of Paris and cookbooks were filled with cookie recipes. They finally made their way to the United States in the early 1800s, and now, it’s nearly impossible to imagine life without them.

What Makes a Cookie a Cookie?

So…what exactly is a cookie? Though cookies derive from cakes, what we know as a good cookie now is really nothing like cakes or cupcakes—they’re denser, chewier, crispier and have an entirely different texture. Cookie recipes widely vary, but most have a few things in common.

Generally, cookie recipes have abandoned using water completely, which makes the dough thicker and stiffer than that of cakes. Instead, cookies use ingredients like butter and/or shortening in its place, which helps them get that characteristic crispy-on-the-outside-soft-on-the-inside bite we all love. And almost all cookies are made using a combination of other basic pantry ingredients like flour, sugars and flavor boosts like extracts, nuts or candy.

How to Make Sugar Cookies

One of the most enduring types of cookies in America over the past century is the tried-and-true sugar cookie. Simple to make, decorate and store, sugar cookies are enormously popular around the holidays, but are enjoyed year-round too. Everyone needs a go-to sugar cookie recipe in their recipe box, and we say it should be this one—it’s easily one of our most popular homemade cookie recipes ever. Here’s how to make it:

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup butter
  • 3 oz cream cheese, softened
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon almond extract
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

Materials:

  • Large bowl
  • Plastic wrap
  • Cookie cutters
  • Cookie sheets
  • Hand or stand mixer

Flour, sugar, butter, cream cheese, salt, almond extract, vanilla, egg yoke

First, in a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients except the flour. Beat until the mixture is light and fluffy.

Combine all ingredients except flour

Next, add the flour a bit at a time, mixing well until none remains.

Add flour

Shape the dough into 3 disks. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for one hour—this will make the dough easier to handle!

Shape the dough into 3 disks

After the hour is up, heat your oven to 375°F and roll out one disk of dough at a time with a rolling pin on a floured surface to 1/8-inch thickness. Lightly flour 2 ½-inch round cookie cutters, or cookie cutters of your desired shape and cut the dough.

Roll out dough to 1/8 in thickness, cut with cookie cutter

Place the cookies 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake the cookies for 6 to 10 minutes or until they appear light golden-brown. Immediately remove the cookies from the cookie sheets and allow them to cool completely on a wire rack before decorating.

Cool cookies on a wire rack

You can easily put your own spin on sugar cookies! Try swapping the almond extract for vanilla, or amp up the flavor by adding a 2 tsp grated lemon peel or 1 tsp of cinnamon.
Most recipes give a range of baking times to compensate for oven variations. Check on them at the minimum bake time, looking for firmly set cookies, browned edges and other signs of doneness.

Don’t have time to make these from scratch? Our sugar cookie dough jumpstarts the process so you can get to the decorating faster.

How to Decorate Cookies

You don’t have to be a pastry chef to make cookies look impressive. In fact, decorating cookies is way easier than it looks as long as you have the right icing.

How to Ice Cookies

The trick to perfectly icing your cookies is to have a thick icing for borders and a thin icing for flooding.

  • To make THIN icing for flooding cookies: In small bowl, mix powdered sugar, vanilla and almond extract called for in recipe (above). Add enough milk until smooth and desired spreading consistency.
  • To make THICK icing for outlining cookies: Transfer 1/2 cup of the icing mixture to a bowl, and add more powdered sugar a tablespoon at a time until thick enough to pipe from a small plastic squeeze bottle or decorating bag. Icing should be thick enough to hold its shape (and not spread out) when you pipe a small line on a test cookie or piece of parchment paper.

Not a big icing fan? Try a simple cutout technique to make pretty poinsettia cookies or use colored sugar to add flair to your sugar cookies instead!

Basic Iced Holiday Sugar Cookies

Other Types of Cookies

Sugar cookies are just the beginning. Though no cookbook or website could hold every cookie recipe out there, everyone should be familiar with the classics:

Chocolate Chip Cookies: An All-American classic that can be enjoyed year-round, chocolate chip cookies are traditional drop cookies and a household favorite typically made with semi-sweet chocolate chips.

Peanut Butter Cookies: Often distinguished by the pressed fork tines pattern and a rich nutty flavor, peanut butter cookies are another perennial homemade favorite.

Oatmeal Cookies: Oatmeal cookies are classic drop cookies often made with old-fashioned oats and sometimes paired with raisins or candies like semi-sweet chocolate chips or M&M’s.

Christmas Cookies: Every family has their Christmas cookie traditions, but Santa’s plate wouldn’t be complete without adorable cutouts and themed treats that reflect the spirit of the holiday, from Christmas trees and reindeer to wreaths and more!

How to Store Cookies

For when you are getting ahead of the Christmas cookie baking game or want to save some leftovers for later, there are a few hard and fast rules for storing cookies depending on which recipe you use. If you’re storing multiple different types of cookies, make sure you use a separate container for each cookie variety to avoid mingling the flavors and changing the texture.

For soft cookies: Use airtight plastic containers, cookie tins with tight-fitting lids or re-sealable plastic bags. Place waxed paper between cookie layers to prevent sticking. If the cookies are frosted or filled, store them in a single layer.

For crisp cookies: Use a container with a loose-fitting cover, such as a cookie tin or glass baking dish. This is best unless the weather is very humid, in which case you should use a container with a tight-fitting lid. If you find your cookies have lost their “crisp,” reheat them on a cookie sheet at 300°F for 3-5 minutes and cool on a wire rack.

To freeze cookies: Place unfrosted, baked cookies in containers with tight-fitting lids and freeze for up to 12 months. For frosted cookies, first freeze them uncovered on a baking sheet, then package the frozen cookies between layers of waxed paper in a rigid container for up to 2 months.

To thaw frozen cookies: Thaw soft-textured cookies in the container at room temperature or place them briefly in a microwave oven. Crisp-textured cookies should be removed from the container before thawing.

Cookie FAQs

What’s the difference between rolled cookies and drop cookies?
Drop cookies typically have softer dough, and can be dropped onto a cookie sheet by the spoonful without having to be rolled or shaped. Rolled cookie dough is much stiffer, and needs to be rolled out or shaped by hand.

What’s the difference between biscuits and cookies?
We call them cookies in the U.S., but other countries know cookies by different names. In other English-speaking countries outside of America, like England and Australia, the common word for cookies is biscuits. Not to be confused with these biscuits.

What kind of cookie sheet should I use? Does it matter?
Some cookie sheets are better than others! Whichever cookie sheets you decide to use, make sure they are completely cool. We’d recommend having three sheets handy so you can bake one pan while you prepare another and cool a third. Cookie sheets come in a few different styles:

Shiny: Silver-colored aluminum sheets without sides will give you the best cookies. The shiny metal reflects heat, so the cookies won’t burn as easily.

Black or dark surface: Cookies bake much faster on dark, non-reflective surfaces that absorb heat. Check your cookies at the minimum bake time to prevent the bottoms from burning.

While many cookies have enough butter/shortening to prevent sticking, nonstick pans are still nice for cleanup. Pay attention to the color of your nonstick pan to adjust bake time (see above).

What cookies are best for mailing?
Cookies are the best gift! When mailing cookies, choose moist, firm-textured cookies that will remain fresh and intact during transport. The best choices include drop cookies, unfrosted bars, fudgy brownies and other sturdy treats. Pack them in a firm-sided cardboard, metal or plastic container lined with plastic wrap or foil. Insulate the sides of the container with a “wall” of crumpled waxed paper. Place waxed paper between each layer or wrap cookies in pairs, flat sides together. For extra protection, place the container in a larger box padded on all sides, with crumpled paper or packing material. Wrap the box securely and mark it “perishable” and send it on its way.

What type of fat should I use in cookies?
The fat you choose to use in your cookies will affect flavor and texture. So which is better? It’s all about personal preference, and a bit of science. Some general rules to keep in mind, especially when making classic recipes like chocolate chip cookies:

Butter: Tested, tried and true, butter is the fat that will give your cookies the most flavor. If you use melted butter, you’ll get denser, chewier cookies. If you cream softened butter and sugar before adding the other ingredients, you’ll get lighter, fluffier cookies.

Shortening: Substituting shortening for butter will give your cookies less flavor, but more texture, tenderness and moistness. Cookies baked with only butter tend to be crispier and spread out a bit more than cookies made with shortening. If it’s the softer, store-bought quality texture you crave, shortening is your ingredient.

A little bit of both: If you want the best of both worlds—a cookie that’s crispy on the outside but soft on the inside, use equal parts butter and shortening. Whatever you do, don’t use vegetable oil as you choice fat in chocolate chip cookies—the cookies will spread out, be quite thin and not have the same flavor.

How do I keep my dough from getting too sticky?
Chilling cookie dough—especially when making sugar cookie cutouts—is a crucial step to avoiding sticky dough! Pop the dough in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes for best results. Chilled dough also holds its shape better in the oven, which will help those special holiday shapes look more cleanly cut and defined.

How long should I let cookies cool?
If you’re decorating sugar cookies, allow you cookies to cool completely before icing, otherwise things will get a little messy. No matter what kind of cookie recipe you’re using—be it sugar, chocolate chip or peanut butter—make sure you have a cooling rack handy! You’ll want to remove the cookies from the cookie sheet after a couple minutes and transfer to the rack. If you leave them to cool on the hot cookie sheet for too long, they will continue to bake and be overdone.

All cookie’d out? Check out our awesome pie, bar and cake recipes too!



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